THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
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Volume 7

CHAPTER 1

The Three Gradual Stages

H4 He explains the pure conditions which give rise to the successive accomplishment of this position.
I1 He answers about the cause and effect of this position.
J1 The three gradual stages of this position.
K1 Concludes the former discussion and begins the next.


Sutra:

Ananda, each of these categories of beings is replete with all twelve kinds of upside-down states, just as pressing on one's eye produces a variety of flower-like images.

Commentary:


Ananda, each of these twelve categories of beings which I have just described is replete with all twelve kinds of upsidedown states. Not just the one kind of upside-down state that I mentioned is specific to each kind. Each category is influenced by all twelve kinds of upside down states. The random thoughts and upside-down states arise from falseness, just as pressing on one's eye produces a variety of flower-like images. If you push your finger up against your eye and then look, you will see weird visions. If you release the pressure, the visions disappear. It's because you pursue the false thoughts and upside-down states that you cannot get out of rebirth and you keep revolving in the cycle of the twelve categories of living beings. If you do not follow after the false thoughts or pursue ignorance, but instead can return the light and illumine within, if you can return the hearing to hear the self nature, then you can break through ignorance, and all that exists disappears.

Sutra:

With the inversion of wonderful perfection, the truly pure, bright mind becomes glutted with false and random thoughts.

Commentary:


From the falseness arises the state of being upside down, which in turn creates false thoughts. In the nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One, ignorance arises. From the basis of truth, one gives rise to falseness. The "false and random thoughts" are those just described in detail. The originally pure and bright mind becomes filled with myriad thoughts that are totally false and unreal.

K2 Establishes that the position is the opposite of defilement.

Sutra:

Now, as you cultivate towards certification to the samadhi of the Buddha, you will go through three gradual stages in order to get rid of the basic cause of these random thoughts.

Commentary:

Now, as you cultivate towards certification to the samadhi of the Buddha, you will go through three gradual stages. You must establish three gradual levels and cultivate little by little. Then you can put an end to false thinking and get rid of the basic cause of these random thoughts.

Sutra:

They work in just the way that poisonous honey is removed from a pure vessel that is washed with hot water mixed with the ashes of incense. Afterwards it can be used to store sweet dew.

Commentary:


They work in just the way that poisonous honey is removed from a pure vessel that is washed with hot water mixed with the ashes. "Pure vessel" means that the jar was originally clean. It represents the nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One, inherent in us all, which is neither produced nor extinguished. The "poisonous honey" represents people's ignorance and afflictions. The "hot water" represents the Buddhadharma, which gradually washes us clean. "Washing" means to return the nature of the treasury of the Thus Come One to its original form. Afterwards it can be used to store sweet dew. It can store our genuine wisdom; it can hold the enlightenment to the Way. That's what "sweet dew" represents.

K3 Explains the establishment of the position.
L1 Asks for and lists their names.


Sutra:

What are the three gradual stages? The first is to correct one's habits by getting rid of the aiding causes; the second is to truly cultivate to cut out the very essence of karmic offenses; the third is to increase one's vigor to prevent the manifestation of karma.

Commentary:

What are the three gradual stages? The first is to correct one's habits by getting rid of the aiding causes. That refers to causes which contribute to the creation of karma. The second is to truly cultivate to cut out the very essence of karmic offenses. That means to sweep clean the nature of karmic offenses that result from greed, hatred, stupidity, and so forth. The third is to increase one's vigor to prevent the manifestation of karma. One progresses in one's cultivation to counteract the creation of any new karma in the present. One does not follow along in the present with one's propensity to create karma.

M1 Caution in eating.
N1 Asks about and answers that they rely on eating and should stop eating pungent plants.


Sutra:

What are aiding causes? Ananda, the twelve categories of living beings in this world are not complete in themselves, but depend on four kinds of eating; that is, eating by portions, eating by contact, eating by thought, and eating by consciousness. Therefore, the Buddha said that all living beings must eat to live.

Commentary:


What are aiding causes? Some causes aid in the creation of wholesome karma, and some contribute to the creation of unwholesome karma. Here, the Buddha is referring to causes which bring about bad karma. Ananda, the twelve categories of living beings in this world, just described, are not complete in themselves, but depend on four kinds of eating. They depend on eating to survive. That is, eating by portions: bite by bite, bit by bit, the way beings in the six desire heavens, the asuras, humans, and animals take their food. Eating by contact: the ghosts and spirits eat by contact, and some beings in the heavens also eat this way. Eating by thought: in the dhyana heavens of the form realm, beings don't have to actually ingest the food. They take the bliss of dhyana as food, they can eat by thinking. Eating by consciousness: this includes the beings of the formless realm up through those in the Heaven of Neither Thought Nor Non-Thought. They eat by discriminations of consciousness. Therefore, the Buddha said that all living beings must eat to live. That was at the beginning of his teaching, when the Buddha wanted to break through the doctrines of externalists. When he said to them that all living beings must eat to live, the externalists laughed at him and said, "You call that 'dharma'? Do you think we had to wait for you to tell us that? Who doesn't know that beings have to eat to live? Even children understand that."

In reply the Buddha said, "Well, tell me, then, how many kinds of eating are there?"

At that point the externalists were speechless. They couldn't come up with the answer. Then the Buddha explained the four kinds of eating.

Sutra:

Ananda, all living beings can live if they eat what is sweet, and they will die if they take poison. Beings who seek samadhi should refrain from eating five pungent plants of this world.

Commentary:


This passage discusses the first gradual stage, getting rid of the aiding causes. The five pungent plants aid in the creation of unwholesome karma, and so the first step is to eliminate them from one's diet. Ananda, all living beings can live if they eat what is sweet, and they will die if they take poison. "All living beings" refers to the twelve categories. "Sweet" here really means "edible"; the food is sweet in the sense that it is not poisonous, but is nourishing and palatable. "Poisonous" here does not necessarily mean lethal poison, but refers to such things as the five pungent plants, which in this context are considered poisonous. It refers to any food which has an unwholesome effect on beings, and contributes to an earlier death. It doesn't just mean eating something which is instantaneously fatal. Beings who seek samadhi should refrain from eating five pungent plants of this world. The first step is to get rid of contributing causes. The five pungent plants have been described already. They are onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and shallots.

N2 Explains in depth the ill-effects of eating pungent plants.

Sutra:

If these five are eaten cooked, they increase one's sexual desire; if they are eaten raw, they increase one's anger.

Commentary:


If these five are eaten cooked, they increase one's sexual desire. Meat has the same effect. That is one reason why people who cultivate the Way do not eat meat. The five pungent plants also increase desire, but not wholesome desire; rather, they are especially potent in increasing sexual desire, to the point that it is unbearable and one goes crazy with lust. If they are eaten raw, they increase one's anger. They make one more stupid. People with wisdom do not lose their tempers. Those who do lose their tempers, for the most part are people who cannot clearly distinguish either the principles or the specifics. Something happens and they can't see beyond it. It becomes an obstruction for them, and they do not know how to resolve it except by getting angry. But losing their temper doesn't actually help the situation one bit. Meat also increases one's afflictions and the propensity to get angry. And the more of these five pungent plants one eats, the bigger one's temper grows.

Sutra:

Therefore, even if people in this world who eat pungent plants can expound the twelve divisions of the sutra canon, the gods and immortals of the ten directions will stay far away from them because they smell so bad. However, after they eat these things the hungry ghosts will hover around and kiss their lips. Being always in the presence of ghosts, their blessings and virtue dissolve as the days go by, and they experience no lasting benefit.

Commentary:


Therefore, even if people in this world who eat pungent plants can expound the twelve divisions of the sutra canon, the gods and immortals of the ten directions will stay far away from them because they smell so bad. This refers to people who eat the five pungent plants or drink wine or eat meat. On the other hand, the gods and immortals will protect someone who does not ingest these things. Body odors come largely from what one eats. People who enjoy eating beef, onions, and garlic have strong body odors. Their armpits often stink so badly that they can be smelled a long way off, and no one wants to get near them.

There are a number of people who are able to expound on the canon with all its twelve divisions:

Repeating verses and predictions,
Interjections and what was spoken without request;
Past events, analogies, causes and conditions,
This life, expansions, and what never before existed;
With discussion, that is twelve all together,
As in Great Wisdom Shastra's thirty-third chapter.
Memorize the verse and you know the twelve divisions of the canon.

But if one's eating is not pure, one's sole listeners will be hungry ghosts. The gods and immortals will not listen. The hungry ghosts are creatures that don't have anything to eat. But after people who don't hold to pure eating eat these things, meaning the five pungent plants and the like, the hungry ghosts will hover around and kiss their lips. After people eat these strong-smelling foods, the odor lingers around them and attracts ghosts. The ghosts boldly go up and kiss those who partake of the five pungent plants, in an attempt to taste what they've eaten. Ghosts eat by contact, as we have learned, so those who eat these impure things are literally in the hands of ghosts who hang around and keep touching them. You may not be one who can see them, but they are really there doing just that. Being always in the presence of ghosts, their blessings and virtue dissolve as the days go by, and they experience no lasting benefit. Plain and simple, this passage says that people who eat the five pungent plants end up in the company of ghosts. Ghosts are their constant companions, even though the people themselves may be oblivious to the fact. Their blessings and virtue thereby decrease, and they end up with no advantages at all.

Sutra:

People who eat pungent plants and also cultivate samadhi will not be protected by the Bodhisattvas, gods, immortals, or good spirits of the ten directions; therefore, the tremendously powerful demon kings, able to do as they please, will appear in the body of a Buddha and speak dharma for them, denouncing the prohibitive precepts and praising lust, rage, and delusion.

Commentary:


People who eat pungent plants and also cultivate samadhi will not be protected by the Bodhisattvas, gods, immortals, or good spirits of the ten directions. Who is referred to here? Whoever eats the five pungent plants. If you eat them, it's referring to you. If I eat them, it's referring to me. The text leaves the matter open. Why don't dharma protectors and good spirits guard such people? Because they smell too bad. Preferring purity, the protectors avoid the stench and do not come around to guard such people. However, protectors are essential in cultivation, for where the proper resides, the deviant does not, but where the proper is lacking, the deviant will win the advantage. The "proper" refers to the dharma protectors and good spirits who guard and aid cultivators of the Way. But in this case, where they do not come around, the tremendously powerful demon kings, able to do as they please, will appear in the body of a Buddha and speak dharma for them. Seeing an unprotected cultivator, the powerful demonic kings come on the scene and gather him into their retinue. They will enter when they catch you off guard. How great is their power? They can turn into Buddhas! I've advised you that if in the future you obtain the Buddha eye, you may see Buddhas come or Bodhisattvas come or gods and immortals come or spirits come. But if they are for real, they will have a light about them that is pure and cool, and when it shines on you, you will experience extreme comfort, such as you have never known. That, then, is a true Sage. If it's a demon, it puts out heat. However, it requires a lot of wisdom to make this distinction. If you lack sufficient wisdom, you will not notice the power of his heat. Of course, the heat is not hot like a fire, but it is the case that the light of a demon carries heat, while the light of a Buddha does not.

Another way you can tell the difference between a demon appearing as a Buddha and an actual Buddha appearing is to look at the dharma they propound. Demon kings will go about denouncing the prohibitive precepts and praising lust, rage, and delusion. They will say, "Don't hold the precepts, that's a small vehicle practice. Those of the great vehicle kill, but it's not killing; steal, but it's not stealing; engage in lust, but it's not lust. So it's no problem. If you kill, you haven't broken any precept. The same goes for stealing and lust. Don't cling to such a small state. Don't hold to such fine distinctions in your conduct. Violations don't matter."

What you do before you receive the precepts does not count as a violation of them. But once you have taken a precept, for example, the precept against killing, it is then a violation of the precept if you commit the act of killing. Why? Because you clearly knew it was wrong but intentionally violated the prohibition. If you receive the precept against stealing and you go out and steal, you have violated that precept. You may have indulged in sexual misconduct before receiving the precept against it, but that doesn't count as an offense, because it's over and done. But if you conduct yourself in this way after taking the precept, then you violate it. Before you take the precept against lying, you are not in violation of the precept no matter what you say, but once you receive the precept you can't be irresponsible in what you say. Whatever it is, if you know, you know, and if you don't know, you don't know. You can't say you don't know when you really do; or say you know when you really don't. You can't beat around the bush when you speak. The straight mind is the Bodhimanda.

Someone may think; well, then, if I don't take them, I won't commit any violations, right? But now you know that it is better to take them, and if you don't you are missing the opportunity. If you do not receive the precepts, you will not be able to make any progress, either in your personal life or with regard to the Buddhadharma.

You certainly should continue to make progress. Since we know it is a good thing to do, we should receive the precepts and then carefully uphold them.

But the demon kings do nothing but slander and tear down the precepts and encourage you not to receive them. They praise sexual desire. "It's great," they say. "The more sexual desire you have, the loftier the level of Bodhisattvahood you will realize. Just take Ucchushma, who had to have two to three hundred women a day, but then later cultivated and became Fire-head Vajra. So what's the problem?" And so they go on. Actually, as soon as he begins praising sexual desire, you should know immediately that he is not a genuine Buddha. As to rage, he says, "Having a temper doesn't matter. The bigger your temper, the bigger your Bodhi. After all, affliction is just Bodhi, so it follows that the more affliction you have, the more Bodhi you'll get. It doesn't matter. Lose your temper whenever you feel like it." The demon king praises rage in this way. "Delusion" just means being stupid and doing things that are upside down. We discussed it earlier:

Through a continual process of dullness and slowness, the upside-down state of stupidity occurs in this world. It unites with obstinacy to become eighty-four thousand kinds of random thoughts that are dry and attenuated.

And the beings without thought turn into earth, wood, metal, or stone. Of course, this doesn't happen to every stupid being. It does happen occasionally, however. But here the demon king praises delusion; he tells you that the stupider you are, the better it is, because if you are stupid it will be easier for him to get you to obey his instructions. You'll fall right in with him. You'll become one of the retinue of the demon kings.

Recently a book came out of India that specializes in praising the tantric practice of men and women cultivating together. This is a book written by demons. Demons praise sexual desire and do not instruct people to put a stop to it. They say that without cutting off sexual desire one can become a Buddha. But Buddhas are pure, whereas the filthiest thing, the most turbid emotion, is sexual desire. In Chinese the word for marriage (hun) contains a character which is a combination of the word for "woman" (nu) and the word for "confusion" (hun), or "dark delusion." So the very word marriage itself says that as soon as one gets married, one loses wisdom. One's life is spent as if in perpetual night, in darkness and impurity. It is as if one were sleeping the days away, and when one is asleep, one is totally oblivious to everything. Just that is stupidity. Chinese characters often shed insight on the meanings they represent.

On the other hand, what I just said about marriage is not always the case. You have to be flexible when you view things. You can't be too rigid in your opinions. Although I said that marriage is confusion, you can try to gain understanding within that confusion. You can enter that confusion but not get muddled. Shakyamuni Buddha married, and yet he was the wisest of people.

When you just heard that people who eat the five pungent plants are kissed by ghosts, did it alarm you? If you weren't frightened, then you must see it as no problem. If it alarmed you, then stop eating the five pungent plants. If you don't eat them, the gods and immortals will protect you and the ghosts will leave you alone. If you can marry and stay alert, stay awake, then you won't sink into that confusion. If you enter into the situation, you must not be turned by it. Don't mistake what I said as meaning that I'm opposed to anyone getting married. I'm just exploring a principle.

Sutra:

When their lives end, these people will join the retinue of demon kings. When they use up their blessings as demons, they will fall into the Relentless Hell.

Commentary:

When their lives end, these people will join the retinue of demon kings. This refers to people who eat the five pungent plants. Because they eat such things, the gods, immortals, Bodhisattvas, and good spirits do not protect them. Therefore, the demon kings who possess great power can have their way with them. The demon king appears as a Buddha and speaks demonic dharma to them, praising sexual desire, anger, and stupidity. Having been confused by the demons, these people lose their proper knowledge and proper views and any real wisdom. Instead, they harbor deviant knowledge and deviant views. The demon king says sexual desire is good, and they believe it. "The Buddha told me so! He said it's no problem." That's called mistaking a thief for one's own son. One mistakes the demon king for the Buddha. Therefore, "When their lives end, these people will join the retinue of demon kings." When their worldly blessings are used up, they die and obediently go over to the retinue of the demon king. When they use up their blessings as demons, they will fall into the Relentless Hell. Demons also have their own kind of blessings.

Once there was a cultivator who recited the name of Amitabha Buddha. However, he was particularly greedy, especially for silver and gold. He did recite the Buddha's name, but that's because he had heard that the Land of Ultimate Bliss had ground made of gold, and he figured he could amass a pile of it when he got there. Then one day he saw Amitabha Buddha come. The Buddha said to him, "Today you should be reborn in the Happy Land, and you can take your gold and silver with you." So he put his four or five hundred ounces of gold on the lotus flower that Amitabha Buddha was holding. But before he had a chance to hop on the flower himself, it disappeared, as did the Buddha holding it. "Oh," thought the man, "Amitabha Buddha likes money, too. He's run off with all my gold!" At just about that time, in the household of the donor where he was living, a new-born donkey died. They noticed that the belly of the young donkey was hard and heavy, and when they cut it open, lo and behold, the old cultivator's gold and silver were tucked away inside! At that point the old cultivator realized how heavy his greed was, and he rejoiced that he had not gone off with "Amitabha Buddha," for had he gone, he would have become that small donkey. And he knew that the "Amitabha Buddha" who had come was not a genuine state.

Someone wonders, is there really an Amitabha Buddha? Of course there is. But because people have deviant knowledge and deviant views, there are also demons who can appear in the likeness of Amitabha Buddha. Clearly, we should aim to be straight and proper. But how do you do that? Be extremely careful not to be greedy. Anybody who has the idea he can go to the Land of Ultimate Bliss and mine for gold had better wake up fast. Although the Pure Land may be paved with gold, you can't harbor thoughts of self-benefit and make plans to use it as you please. In cultivation, being off by just one thought can bring about demonic karma. The text says that because people who eat the pungent plants have deviant knowledge and deviant views, they first become demons themselves, and after that they fall into the hells. When will they get out? Nobody knows.

N3 Concludes by calling this practice the foremost increase in vigor.

Sutra:

Ananda, those who cultivate for Bodhi should never eat the five pungent plants. This is the first of the gradual stages of cultivation.

Commentary:

Ananda, have you been listening? Those who cultivate for Bodhi, anybody on the path to Bodhi, should never eat the five pungent plants. You definitely must stop eating onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, and chives. If you eat these things, you can end up in the company of the demon kings. If you don't eat these things, you can join the Buddha's retinue. This is the first of the gradual stages of cultivation. This is the first step of progress for a cultivator of the Way. In cultivation, one must get rid of the causes which aid in the creation of bad karma. The five pungent plants are one cause which aids the demon kings. You should not regard them as unimportant. The five pungent plants make you turbid and confused. They make you impure, and your impurity puts you together with the retinue of demon kings, for the more impure one is, the better they like it.

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